I recently traveled to Machu Picchu with a few friends and my son, who was four months old at the time. Everyone thought I was crazy for taking him. I am not sure what they were afraid of… malaria? Too high. Water-borne illness? Breastfeeding. Ear pain on the flight? Exaggerated. Consistent nap time? Overrated. It was during this time that I realized that children are extremely adaptable. It is adults who are not.
I consider myself a well-traveled individual and feel that every year, I become more laid back and easy going while exploring new regions. However, it was on this trip as I traveled with my infant that I felt like I graduated to an entirely new level of flexibility and adaptability. It was a wonderful experience and I wanted to share a few things with those who would love to travel with children, but have not had the ambition to do so (yet!).
For starters, do not listen to people (family, books, American culture) who tell you that having children will and should slow you down or that it is too hard to travel with them. Again, children are adaptable. You can be, too. It’s okay if they skip a nap or two. It’s okay if they fall asleep in your arms on a long train ride or at a restaurant and not in a crib. It’s okay if strangers kiss them. It’s okay if they get a little sunburned. It’s okay if you have to wash out a poopie outfit in a makeshift sink and then put the dirty outfit and diaper back onto your child. It’s okay if they eat a little dirt. Sometimes these things can cause a problem, but those times are the exceptions and not the rule. For the most part, you can relax. They will be perfectly fine. They will be more than fine.
Secondly, put in invisible earplugs when people around you are trying to offer you unsolicited advice about how to soothe your child if they are crying. I’m not sure why, but a crying baby is the absolute worst thing to many people and they will begin saying the most outrageous things to you in effort to “help” you. And they are yelling these things to you over your screaming child as if you can hear them. As if this is a really good time to offer advice. And the advice itself is atrocious. These are the moments that you want to punch someone’s lights out. But, don’t let them break you. Just smile and nod and walk quickly away, even if they chase you. (Which happens.)
Finally, traveling with a baby is a community event. It brings out the “it takes a village” moments. I’ve always traveled solo, iPod on, nose in a book, not making conversation with the people sitting next to me. Those days are over. Jude was always inviting people to our party with his smiles and coos. And I needed it. Let people help you. It’s a beautiful thing. I was amazed by how many people, men and women, who would volunteer to hold Jude so I could use the restroom or stretch my legs. They carried him, they carried my bags, they held my beverage. Babies evoke so much sensitivity and pleasure. I never got any angry looks when he was fussy, either, just encouraging words, like, “You’re doing a good job. Hang in there. He’ll be fine. Don’t let it stress you out.” The entire experience made me feel at one with my fellow man.
In conclusion, don’t put your dreams of far-off places on hold because of your children. Integrate them into those dreams. I could have waited to see Machu Picchu until after Jude was older, when I could have left him with family, but it was such a joy to have him there. We created the most amazing memories. It was one of the best travel experiences I’ve had. I want his earliest memories to be of seeing people and places that are different than the way we live our daily lives. It’s good for him. It’s good for me. I believe one of the best things you can give your child is an adventurous life with exposure to various cultures. So, apply for that passport and make it happen.